Dr Prarthana Purkayastha | Senior Lecturer in Dance
“My why… picking up the threads of forgotten performers."
Through my current research I’m looking at unrecognised, marginalised or lost dancers who do not really feature in the pages of dance history as celebrity dancers – I am picking up threads that do not necessarily feature in the centrepiece of a tapestry of history but rather appear at the frayed edges of that tapestry. During the high tide of the British Empire, certain ‘native’ or ‘exotic’ bodies were transported from the Indian sub-continent into Britain and placed as live human exhibits in the Empire’s exhibitions. I’m interested in the ways in which these ‘native’ bodies were used, appropriated and displayed for the interest of a western colonial imagination. Some of those displayed were street performers, and some were even prisoners or inmates of jails. Indian dance and Indian culture was reimagined by a British audience through these racially suppressed bodies. But these seemingly unimportant figures that the archives have chosen to forget, or dancers who have been pushed aside because they were nobodies, actually help to ask and answer really important questions about the ways in which culture was produced and consumed during the British Empire. My why is to look at dance and choreography as a means through which we can have a more nuanced view of history and our place within it.